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The First Rainbow Coalition Community Discussion with Larry Gossett – By Natalie Jude Johnson

by March 25, 2021 0

The Black Panthers, first known as the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, was a political organization founded in 1966 by Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton to represent the Black community in social politics, especially those surrounding issues of police brutality and lack of opportunity. In 1969, just three years after its founding, the Chicago Black Panther’s leader Fred Hampton started working to build a multi-ethnic coalition of groups that shared common concerns about a dearth of economic opportunities and police violence in their communities. The Young Lords, a Latino justice group, along with the Young Patriots, a group of Southern working-class white Americans, wound up working closely with the Panthers in what would come to be known as the Rainbow Coalition; the first Rainbow Coalition.

In Ray Stantisteban’s film The First Rainbow Coalition, the close relationships between these various cultural and social groups is explored in great depth. From deepening the work against police brutality to fighting for housing and education, the Rainbow Coalition changed the network of Chicago and the United States at large.

The Rainbow Coalition hosted strikes, walks, and other peaceful protests; but their involvement did not end with presenting the issues to the public. Fred Hampton from the Black Panther Party, William “Preacherman” Fesperman from the Young Patriots, José “Cha Cha” Jiménez of the Young Lords, and Young Patriots members including Jack (Junebug) Boykin, Bobby Joe Mcginnis and Hy Thurman all hosted conferences, charities, fundraisers, and other events which involved the community in the push for change. 

The Coalition made major progress in aiding minority children by providing free meals in the mornings, but was met with violence and sneaky legal action on the side of those who didn’t support benefits for underrepresented children. Unfortunately, powerful interests led by Mayor Daley undermined programs such as these as a way to try and fracture allied groups, as well as prevent growing support amongst the public.

After screening the film, the Mt. Baker Meaningful Movies Project hosted a community conversation with Larry Gossett, a major player in the Seattle social justice scene. Gossett, a member of the King County Council and co-founder of the University of Washington’s Black Student Union and Seattle’s own Black Panthers, has been an active seeker of justice his whole life but really began to push for equity during his time at the University of Washington. He was a Vista Volunteer and happened to be the first ever graduate with a major in African American studies. With these vast experiences under his belt, he led an incredible and inspiring post-screening discussion about the need for poor and oppressed people to work together for shared goals.

“This film provides a lot of education and inspiration,” said Gossett. “Street gangs didn’t get the kind of time in prison that the black panthers and young lords were getting in ‘68 and ‘69,” even though “The Black Panthers aided those wearing confederate flags in organizing their people.” 

“This movie… shows that it’s possible to organize very poor people if you have community organizers and activists who are willing to go to jail,” Gossett explained, diving into his personal experiences learning about the importance of gathering a team to tackle any and all issues. Even when fear settles in, such as when Fred Hampton was killed, he explained that there is scarcely a time when someone in pursuit of justice is truly alone. “You have White Panthers, you have Black Panthers. You have Puerto Rican Panthers too, they’re just called the Young Lords…You can kill a revolutionary but you can’t kill the revolution.”


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